Sunday, August 30, 2009

Back in time

If you could go back in time, what time period would you go? I think it would be fun to see my parents or grandparents as young people. Although, meeting Dan as a kid would probably be pretty fun, too. Here's Dan with his brother David on a trip to Italy. Check out those glasses! And the matching outfits and knapsacks! Looking at this picture, you get the sense he was the same exact Squeen back then--just in a smaller package.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Cooking School: Crepes

Needing a break from soups, I decided to make crepes as my cooking school project this week.

I did not have high expectations. I am not a particularly good flipper. I make pancakes about twice a month in this household, and yet, I am still a complete spaz when it comes to flipping batter on a skillet. It almost always comes out a little messy and lopsided.

I always imagined crepes to be the epitome of flipping food, so I made sure Dan was out of the house when I attempted this one. I couldn't stand the idea of him making fun of me as I tried to make this work. I was doomed to fail.

The recipe said that even for the most experienced crepe maker, the first one is always a dud. My first one did look a little weird and slimy, but I was pleased to see it come out of the pan in one piece. I started nibbling on it while I was making the others, and it looked weird, but it sure tasted good.

To my complete astonishment, the next few crepes came out perfect. I would put the batter in the pan, swirl it around, wait 30 seconds or so, and then using a spatula, I went around the edges and flipped it around with such ease, it felt like an out of body experience. Was this really me, making these delectable circles of joy? Could it really be this easy?

I decided to test my skills and try to flip one in the air, like pizza dough. When the batter was ready, I lifted the pan and whipped it in the air and lo and behold the little crepe flew in the air and landed SPLAT right back into the pan. It totally got all bunched up wrong, but I couldn't help but laugh out loud at the glee of flinging food in the air (and feeling a bit relieved that I was able to catch it--also not one of my strong suits). Plus, like the first one, it still tasted pretty good.

I was pretty full from the "bad" scraps by the time I sat down and started playing with the fillings. But I was so excited putting my little creations together that I ate until my stomach hurt.

Some variations I made over the weekend (using what I had lying around the house):
Creme fraiche, lemon zest and honey
Creme fraiche, lemon zest and blueberries
Plain yogurt and blueberries
Nutella and bananas
Nutella, whipped cream and cinnamon (next time, I might top with some powdered sugar)

So. Good. But. Could. Not. Take. One. More. Bite.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Picnic & a movie

Seeing a movie in Bryant Park in the summertime a quintessential New York City experience. One that Dan and I never participated in until this week, when the poker people invited us for a picnic and a viewing of Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Luckily, Julien was around to come to the park early and hold us a spot. The lawn opened at 5 pm. According to Julien, here's what the lawn looked like at 4:59 pm.

Yes, people were lined around the park with their blankets out, ready to make their move. [photo by Julien]

This is what it looked like two minutes later. [photo by Julien]

Seriously, New York, why does everything cool have to resort to this? Mind you, the movie doesn't start until sundown, which is like three and a half hours from when this picture was taken. Sigh. (Even though I did not have to wait, it's the principle!)

Here's our crew digging into the delicious assortment of food--mostly provided by Julien, but we all chipped in and brought something and had a nice meal.

The entire park was brimming with people. All the blankets were touching each other, you could barely see a hint of grass. Here's everyone getting settled right before the show started. [photo by Julien]

Can you believe this scene? It didn't feel as chaotic as it looks. [photo by Julien]

Movie at Bryant Park: A Summary
Picnic in the park: awesome
Time spent with friends: awesome
Food: awesome
Watching a movie under the night sky: awesome
Bugs Bunny cartoon opener: awesome
Watching a movie on a blanket: uncomfortable
The actual movie: Completely and utterly boring

Friday, August 21, 2009

The LA Hamsters

Dan has told me before that Los Angeles fans suck. They arrive late to sporting events, they don't cheer at the game, they leave early to avoid the traffic. In this past week in Colorado, I have learned something else about the LA people. They love The Ham.

I know that my blog has fans scattered around the globe. From time to time, I will bump into a person or get an email from a random someone who I never expected to be a reader. This always surprises me. I knew that some of Dan's friends from LA were following along (I think, mostly, to read funny stories about Squeen), but I was kind of blown away and flattered by the enthusiasm they showed for the blog when I saw them in Boulder.

The best part about LA fans is that whatever something funny or interesting happened, regardless if I was involved or not, they all sort of whipped their heads around toward me and demanded to know, "Will THAT be in the blog??"

Usually when people ask me this question, they are implying by their tone of voice that whatever just happened SHOULD NOT be in the blog. Not my LA fans. These people will do anything for the fame and glory only the Ham can bring. Here's a picture of them begging to be featured:

Dan's like, "No big deal...I'm in this blog all the time!"

I'm wondering, does Sam (in the white cap) even know why he's begging? Does he know about Ham? I just introduced myself to him about 10 minutes before this picture was taken. I love that he is just playing along.

Anyway, this entry is a shout out to my LA readers and the other 7 people who read this blog. (Hi Mom!) And for all the randoms I don't know about. Thanks.

Thoughts on Boulder

In my quest to find the perfect place to live, I wouldn't mind living in a place like Boulder.

  • Weather. The city has more sunny days than San Diego or Miami. Our host, Charina, was apologizing to us because there were clouds in the sky. Seriously.
  • Great quality of life: Here's a place where people spend their time in nature, exploring the outdoors and taking care of their bodies through biking, hiking, rock climbing, kayaking and skiing. Charina says that at work, the hours between 12 and 2 are dead because people in her office are out bike riding. The priorities here are different. I could get used to that.
  • Beautiful Scenery. Do people ever tire of looking at mountains?
  • Good food. As discussed.
  • Good hair days every day. My hair has never been so straight or frizz-free.
  • Friendly peeps. People are always willing to help out.

  • Terrible service. Every place we went seemed to move at snail pace. But at least they were nice about it. Duuuuuuuuuuude.
  • Road rules: We were warned about the strict road rules here, and it was no joke. When the street sign said 20mph, everyone was moving 20 mph---uphill. They have cameras set up all over town to capture you speeding or going through a yellow light. Despite all that, we saw people being pulled over by cops everywhere. It was all a little Big Brother to me.
  • No culture: I am sure you could find it in Denver (which frankly, on my second visit, still did not appeal to me), but I didn't get the sense that this was where you would easily find a museum or a theater playing a documentary.
  • No diversity: I saw one black person there. Could get a little monotonous.
  • Baking Woes: With the high altitude, making a cake could be tricky.
Truth be told, when I looked around Boulder, all I could think about is my brother Pete and his wife Jen. They would LOVE it here. It is so them. If they ever decide to leave NJ, I know the place they should go.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Colorado Eats

We had some delicious food during our stay in Colorado.

Probably the best meal of the trip was at The Kitchen, a farm-to-table restaurant that offers fresh, seasonal dishes. The place had a friendly, laid back vibe and the coolest part was that the kitchen runs on 100% wind power and the used oils power someone's car! Charina, Dan and I each had salads and split the Prosciutto & Gioia Burrata flat bread. Amazing! Would recommend this place to anyone visiting the area.

The Kitchen's black board.

Boulder had its share of organic/healthy/slow-food/gluten-free foods all around. We visited the very busy Farmer's Market and got some peaches that looked like they were just picked from a tree that morning (even Dan approved). I loved the Savory Spice Shop which had all kinds of cool spices that I never see grocery shopping in New York.

The best gelato in Boulder hands-down can be found at Powell's Sweet Shoppe. I got s'mores and Dan got cookie dough. Check out the swirly biscuit that comes with it. Wonderful. In additional to gelato, the store has all the old-fashioned candy you could ever imagine and plays Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory on repeat all day. Definitely my kind of place. (True confession: I have never actually seen Willy Wonka. Dan is appalled.)

It feels like every time I page through New York Magazine or go online to Serious Eats, they are always talking about the Vietnamese banh mi sandwich, which has somehow become the "hip" sandwich in NYC (at least according to them--I never see anyone eating it). I finally tried my first banh mi at BimBamBoo in Boulder. This is a trend that I can support.

How could we go to Colorado without hitting up Pasquini's Pizzeria in Denver? Dan somehow found this awesomely named pizza chain online, and we hit one up hoping to meet some fellow Squeens. Instead, we met a waitress that looked exactly like my niece, Tiffany. I wish I got a picture.

We brought along Ara and Sandy for the ride, and met up with Brian and JP (you may remember that Brian just moved to Denver). Since we ate pizza the previous night, I opted for the meatball sandwich. Dan and Ara split a pie, which was said to be pretty good--a little doughy--but worthy of the name.

Afterward, Brian and JP showed us the way to Happy Cakes Bakeshop, where Dan and I split two cupcakes: s'mores (apparently, popular flavor here in Colorado?) and raspberry lemonade. The s'mores version had graham crackers somehow baked into the cake, which was unusual. I found them a tad dry, but Dan thought they were superior to Tee & Cakes. It's so hard for me to judge; I like them all.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Highlights of Nate and Suze's Wedding

Dinner at Casa Bonita.

The wedding weekend officially kicked off with an evening at the world-famous Casa Bonita restaurant in Denver, as seen in an episode of South Park. [Picture from Cyndi]

We enjoyed watching cliff divers, exploring scary caves and eating the worst Mexican food ever made. Yes, Dan cleaned his plate anyway.

We got into a little trouble, but it turned out okay.

The Rehearsal Dinner.

The night before the wedding, we were invited for dinner to Old Chicago where we ate deep dish pizza in a relaxing outdoor patio. I sat with Matt and Katie, who were celebrating their five year anniversary.

The waiter got a little reckless with the pizza and ended up spilling tomato sauce all over Aaron's shirt. Dan and Francesca dabbed the stain with a healthy dose of water and salt (which just looked gross and totally did not work). The waiter's response: "Duuuuuuuuuuude, I am so sorry." Duuuuuuuuuuude.

We hit up a couple of bars afterward, where antics such as "rockpiling the bride" ensued.

At one bar, groomsman Matt tells me: "I love Dan because he is completely, unapologetically the biggest nerd ever. We're at a bar, and he is super excited there's cribbage." Here's my nerd, playing the game with Ara and Sandy.

The Wedding.

Nate and Susannah got married at the historic--and haunted--Boulderado Hotel in downtown Boulder. Their ceremony took place on the beautiful staircase of the hotel, and the reception followed in the mezzanine afterwards.

Here's Kunka, Susannah, Nate, Jacey and Dan at our table. I like this picture because Dan's head is twice the size of Jacey's. As Dan said, "I'm the mothership."

The wedding had a energetic dance floor. Here, the bride rocks out to Living on a Prayer.

Kunka attempts an air guitar solo, which at first no one is into....

...until he uses his elbow to smash the "guitar" on the ground. The bridesmaids are impressed.

A man-wich brimming with bromance forms in the middle of the dance floor.

The groom serenades his woman. I am not sure what's happening behind them.

Dan meets his soul mate, Uncle Bill. Nate's dad apparently says that you can never trust a man with a bow tie. "I couldn't disagree more," Dan said. To which Uncle Bill replied, "You got that right, baby."

As you can tell, we had the best time!

The After-Party

At the hotel bar, Matt and Christophe look poker faced, but they are probably up to no good.

Jacey tries to quiet the crowd down. Cyndi and Francesca, oblivious.

Heading downstairs to Catacombs, the games continue into the night!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Into the Wild

During our short stay in Colorado, Dan and I wanted to take advantage of the great outdoors available to us (and I gleefully took advantage of the fact that Dan wanted to go outside for once!) Here's what we did:

On Thursday morning, Dan and I went to Chautauqua Park and climbed the
First Flatiron. This popular, local hike is all uphill on the way up, all downhill the way back. I am glad it was only 3 miles. I don't know if it was the altitude or that I am out of shape (perhaps a little bit of both) but it was pretty hard (in a good way!) Climbing up was tough on the quads and the lungs, and the way down was all about tightening your core to keep your balance. What a great workout! I was definitely sore the next day--weirdly enough, in my calves.

As grueling the workout was, the scenery was really spectacular. The beginning of the hike, you walked up a grassy knoll that had beautiful grasses, an array of wild flowers and of course, a view of the mountains.

We spotted some wildlife along the way, like this grasshopper.

The trail then becomes more rocky and woodsy. We had to scale this 8 foot vertical wall of rock, which was probably the funnest part of the hike for me.

Ahhhh....A view from the top. It felt great to rest. This is where Dan informed me that he is a great hiker. Good! I hope that means I can convince him to come on another hike with me one day.

Biking: On Friday morning, we met up with Ara, Sandy and Matt, who were in Boulder from Los Angeles for the wedding. We rented bikes and rode the Boulder Creek bike path.

Here's Ara, Sandy, Dan and me on our cruisers.

Colorado is a huge biking city--we saw tons of bike riders everywhere we went so it's no surprise that they have a fabulous bike path that gives you a good view of the whole city. The flat bike ride took us from downtown to the university campus and points in between. Though to be honest, I don't remember too many details because I was busy talking to Matt or Sandy the entire time. We did pass a group of youngsters playing Medieval fighting games which is something I have only seen in the movies.

Dan and me near the Boulder Creek.

Mountaineering (well, sort of):
On Saturday, a group of us wedding folks drove up to Nederland, a mountain town west of Boulder. It was drizzling, so we mainly just drove up the mountain in a big white van and stepped outside for a quick picture whenever we saw something pretty. Judging from my pictures, something pretty usually involved water.

Here's Dan and me standing next to a big lake.

Now the group next to other water (it's behind them, I promise). That group would be Sam, Dan, Cyndi, Chris, Kunka, Jacey and Matt.

Sam, our driver and the bride's brother, wearing his cap and driver's gloves just like all the professional chauffeurs I know.

A parting shot of Dan and more running water. Go water. Go Colorado. Go Obama.

Welcome to Boulder

Last week, Dan and I flew to Boulder, Colorado, for Nate and Susannah's wedding. We decided to head out a few days early to get some vacation time and hang out with our other friends, Charina and Jim (affectionately known as Cha and Jimbo), who moved to Colorado from New Jersey about three years ago.

Charina and I met when we worked together at a woman's magazine. It was my first marketing job, I didn't know anything, and it was the sort of work environment where you had to fend for yourself and figure it out. Charina is the person who took me under her wing and taught me everything I know. Even now, I consider her my mentor. She is crazy-smart and super-talented, with a wicked sense of humor and a love of fun that makes people just gravitate toward her. Charina is married to Jim, a sweet and friendly guy that compliments her in every way.

Charina took the day off from work to introduce us to Boulder and show us the lay of the land. Our first day went as one would expect:

Walking down Pearl Street, the main drag, with Cha and Dan.

Record shopping at Bart's CD Cellar on Pearl Street.

Munching on lemon meringue and strawberry milkshake cupcakes and a cookie at Tee & Cakes.

Later, we met up with Jim and the four of us drove to Denver for a Rockies game. It was fun, but I was too busy talking to Cha to notice there was a baseball game going on. (And that's the way I like it).

Here's Jim, Dan and me at the baseball game.

Can I just state for the record that Charina and Jim are the most gracious hosts ever? We were only planning to stay with them for a day or two and then go to a hotel, but the two insisted that we stay at their condo for the duration of our vacation--even though they were away for part of it. They gave us one of their cars to use the entire time. They lent us their bike, their water bottles, their backpacks, anything we needed for our trip. Every morning, we'd wake to find a plate of baked goodies from a local bakery waiting for us on the table along with pages of detailed instructions of places to go and things to see. Dan and I were blown away by their kindness and they were a huge part of making this vacation so awesome. We love Cha and Jimbo.

The icing on the cake was the third member of their household, a labradoodle named Chewy. From the moment we saw his shaggy coat, wet, grey beard and happy smile, Dan and I were completely smitten by the dog. We conjured up ways of taking the dog home with us without Charina and Jim noticing (unfortunately, we never came up with a solid plan that would work without affecting our friendship).

Dan plays with Chewy.

I foresee the day we move out of New York City, we'll have a Chewy-dog of our own.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Flower Girl

Dan and I don't want to have a cookie cutter wedding that looks like everyone else's. Apparently there is a whole market for people like us. Go online and you will find a ton of wedding web sites (see my blog roll), each with very creative and interesting ways to make a wedding that reflects your personality.

While I search these web sites to inspire me come up with our own original ideas, what really impresses me about them is that I have discovered that there are a ton of young(ish) people--people like me--who run these really creative small business making everything from custom stationary to photography to veils to flowers. You get the sense that these people are doing what they love, being extremely creative, defying cheesy wedding conventions, making it their way and somehow getting paid for it (or at the very least, getting tons of exposure via wedding blogs). These people interest me.

Lately, I have been fantasizing about starting a business based on my own creativity, but there is one catch. I have no skills. Okay, I am being a little hard on myself. Of course I have skills. In actuality, the freelance thing I have going on now is essentially my own marketing business. But I am talking about artistic skills...graphic design, photography, baking cakes, arranging flowers etc. All these things sound awesome, but I am just am amateur. I don't specialize in anything. I can't sell that. Another things: while it sounds cool to own a business like this, is it just a fantasy? Perhaps when it comes down to it, dealing with bridezillas or say, slaving in the kitchen all day baking cakes isn't really all that fulfilling after all.

I looked into paying jobs in some of these fields and realized fast that I didn't have the right experience. Still, intrigued by the idea, last month, I decided to email two woman small business owners based in Brooklyn who I found on wedding web sites, who are doing creative things and are just beginning to establish themselves. One business is a floral design studio, the other a cupcake bakery. I told them my deal and since I have the time on my hands from being unemployed, I asked if I could be an intern and learn from their trade. Both ladies contacted me within 24 hours with a resounding yes, and I have since met both of them in person.

Denise, the floral designer, asked if I would be interested in helping her prepare flowers for a small wedding. I was excited about the idea but a little nervous. You see, I like flowers. But I don't know anything about flowers. I think I have arranged flowers maybe once or twice in my whole life! So yesterday I headed to her studio with butterflies in my stomach (and that self-help mantra, "Do something everyday that scares you," in my head) where I met up with Denise and her assistant, Christine.

I chose Denise as a mentor because her aesthetic matches my own, and if I am going to learn how to arrange flowers, I want them to resemble hers. While the color palette is different, the flower arrangements we created yesterday were similar to those I want for my very own wedding. She showed me an inspiration board for this wedding that included images I had already pulled for my own. (I lament the fact that she isn't based in New Orleans!) Basically, she had sourced small vintage-looking glass containers and we could be creating small arrangements of flowers that will be grouped together on the table. The look is very lush yet somehow informal, like someone was inviting people over for dinner and decided to create a beautiful centerpiece out of the glasses in their china cabinet. It looks effortless, but it's not.

Most of the work I did all day was schlepping buckets of water up and down stairs, cutting and cleaning the flowers, washing all the dishware, filling them up with water, but I have to tell you, the time just flew. I loved it. I watched Denise work her magic of creating the most beautiful arrangements, and it was fascinating and inspiring. She had me try to create a few small vases (basically copying one that she already did). I had fun with it even though she ended up redoing most of my work (I didn't feel bad because it was my first time and she did the same thing with the other assistant, too).

It was a fun day. I didn't come away with any grand conclusions about starting a business or being a florist. All I know is that I want to try it again. I am really grateful to Denise for the opportunity.

At the studio, here's Christine and I after cleaning/cutting all the flowers and putting them into buckets.

Those flowers in buckets turned into mini centerpieces of mostly orange flowers, highlighted with pinks, whites, yellow, plums and lush greenery.

This was my favorite arrangement. This picture doesn't give it justice. It was stunning.

I made those little rose guys on the bottom.